The Power Huggers

Photo: Chris Pizzello/AP

It used to be that a handshake was enough. Now public figures have come to realize that to project likability, nothing beats a hug. Take mayoral candidate Joe Lhota, who’s begun stumping on his huggability. “I tend to hug a lot of people every day,” he says. We weren’t able to find documentation of the act, but as the known huggers below show, humans need touch, and the more famous you are, the better you can provide it.

Jimmy Carter
America’s first hugger-in-chief has always been equal opportunity, embracing White House staff and Willie Nelson; the North Korean leader Kim Il Sung; a Hamas official; and, most famously, at the Camp David Accords, Israel’s Menachem Begin and Egypt’s Anwar Sadat.

Judah Friedlander
Fans of 30 Rock know him as Frank Rossitano, but Friedlander banked that gig partly thanks to his fame as “the hugging guy” in the Dave Matthews Band’s 2001 video for “Everyday.” This performance is one Friedlander reprises on the street almost daily. It even popped up last spring in a YouTube series he filmed inside 7-Eleven for MiO energy drinks.

The Hindu “hugging saint” claims to have held 32 million people since turning 14—a rate of more than one per minute. Thousands will amass to patiently await her karmic embraces; this summer at a Capitol event, representatives, including Steny Hoyer and John Lewis, cozied up to Amma.

Marina Abramovic
The Serbian performance artist softened her stone-faced gaze to raise $600,000 for her Marina Abramovic Institute in Hudson, N.Y. She’s promised to hug every Kickstarter donor at a forthcoming performance called The Embrace. To help fund-raise, Lady Gaga shot a video with Abramovic where Gaga walks nude in the forest and hugs a giant crystal.

John Sexton
A plate in the burly, white-bearded NYU president’s office reads HUGGER. He estimates he averages 50 people a day, a practice that draws excitement in online college-admissions forums and has spawned the shorthand “JSex hugs” on Tumblr. His valedictory to 2013’s graduates was “Hugs to each of you.”

Lady Gaga
Like all superstars, the Mother Monster depends on the veneer of intimacy. “I will always, always, try my very best to wrap my arms around you when I meet you,” she coos. Her creativity can be off-putting, however: When she wore a dress made of meat to the 2010 VMAs, at least one rebuffed her attempt to sidle up. Justin Bieber said, “She went for a hug, and I was like, ‘Oooh, let’s just hold up on that. You have meat on you.’ ”

Michelle Obama
When not busy curling dumbbells, the First Lady’s arms have acted as tools of diplomacy. Besides giving Twitter its most retweeted image ever—of Michelle hugging her husband, captioned “Four more years”—her arms have enwrapped icy foreign leaders like Dmitry Medvedev, the entire men’s Olympic basketball team, and the queen of England, in breach of royal protocol.

David Cameron
The British prime minister bills himself as a “modern, compassionate conservative.” To promote his climate-change agenda, he’s even hugged a husky in the Arctic. But hugging, or at least a hug-friendly image, can sometimes backfire. After Cameron spoke out in support of inner-city youth in 2006, his Labour Party opponents mockingly dubbed his talk the “Hug a Hoodie” speech.

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The Power Huggers